Children's Services Inspection of - Bridgend County Borough Council

 
Inspection of
Children’s Services
        Bridgend County
        Borough Council

                  June 2017
Mae’r ddogfen yma hefyd ar gael yn Gymraeg.
This document is also available in Welsh.
       © Crown copyright 2017   WG31728   Digital ISBN 978 1 4734 9790 0
Contents
                                      Page
Introduction and next steps            3

Overview of findings                   4
Recommendations                        7
Access Arrangements                    9
Safeguarding and Assessment            19

Leadership, Management & Governance    27
Appendix 1: Methodology                36

                                  2
Introduction and next steps
Care and Social Services Inspectorate Wales (CSSIW) undertook an inspection of
children’s services in Bridgend County Borough Council in January/ February 2017.
Inspectors looked closely at the quality of outcomes achieved for children in need of
help, care and support and/ or protection. We focussed specifically on the quality of
practice, decision making and multi-agency work in respect of the authority’s
safeguarding, access and assessment arrangements; including arrangements for the
provision of information, advice and assistance and preventive services. In addition
inspectors evaluated what the local authority knew about its own performance and
the difference it was making for the people it was seeking to help, care and support
and/or protect.
The inspection was structured around people’s pathway into care and support
services, specifically access to preventative and statutory services and the interface
between the two, as well as any safeguarding issues arising. We considered
carefully the contributions made by social services in partnership with other agencies
to achieving good outcomes for children and families and where relevant to
protecting children from harm. Inspectors read case files and interviewed staff,
managers and professionals from partner agencies. An electronic staff survey was
carried out across children’s services. Wherever possible, inspectors talked to
children, young people and their families.
At the time of the inspection the council was experiencing a significant period of
change including the requirement to implement the Social Services and Well-Being
(Wales) Act 2014 (SSWBA). The social services and well-being directorate was also
actively progressing a transformational agenda of services for children young people
and their families while having to deliver medium term financial savings.
Inspectors were pleased to note that senior managers were committed to achieving
improvements in the provision of help and protection for children and families.
The recommendations made on page 8 of this report identify the key areas where
post-inspection development work should be focused.

They are intended to assist Bridgend County Borough Council and its partners in
their continuing improvement.
The inspection team would like to thank Bridgend service users, elected members,
staff and partner agencies who contributed to this report.

Next steps
Bridgend County Borough Council is to produce an improvement plan in response to
this report’s recommendations which will be monitored as part of CSSIW programme
of engagement.

                                          3
Overview of findings
Access arrangements

Inspectors found that the authority had worked hard in the context of the Social
Services Well-being Act 2014, to reshape its services. The authority’s Information
Advice and Assistance function was delivered through the Assessment team which
provided a single point of contact for both social work and preventative (Early Help)
interventions.

Access arrangements to Early Help and statutory services were respectful of
peoples’ rights and individuality and were available bilingually but there was a lack of
accessible quality information for children, young people and their families. The
colocation of staff from social services, Early Help and partner agencies within the
assessment team was supporting children and families to be directed more easily to
appropriate services, but was yet to mature into integrated services. The
Assessment team multi agency arrangements will be extended through the
development of a Multi Agency Safeguarding Hub from April 2017. The current
access arrangements, including the interface between social services and Early
Help, were underpinned by a threshold criteria document, but this was not yet
sufficiently understood by partner agencies. Screening decisions were timely and
Inspectors saw some positive evidence of management oversight. When contacts
were received by children’s services and there was an obvious indication of
significant harm, prompt and proportionate initial action was taken to protect children.
The quality of threshold decision-making however, was inconsistent and not
sufficiently evidenced. It was acknowledged by the service that the changes
introduced to operationalise IAA had brought additional expectations that put
pressure on the capacity of the managers and the workload of the assessment team.
The information provided by partner agencies was not always of a sufficient quality
to support the assessment team in their screening decision and some professional
referrers demonstrated a lack of understanding of the requirements of the service.
More work was needed to develop multi agency quality assurance systems to
support staff to exercise appropriate and proportionate judgements and to provide
assurance that children young people and families were being directed to the most
appropriate service. The impending transition to a MASH provided a timely
opportunity to refresh service expectations resulting from of the SSWBA, including
learning from practice. The authority will also need to extend its performance
information to include an analysis of the impact that services are having on reducing
need and risk.

                                           4
Safeguarding & Assessment

The assessment team were working hard to implement the requirements of the
Social Services Well-being (Wales) Act 2014. Strategy discussions were timely and
supported appropriate information sharing from key agencies.
The quality of the assessments and recording seen was variable; some were good
but others did not sufficiently evidence the principle of co-production or an analysis
of need and risk from the outset. The timeliness and quality of partner’s contributions
to assessments was not always evident and remained too dependent on individual
professional relationships.
Good social work practice to elicit the child’s wishes and feelings was not
consistently well reflected in the content of assessments. Although most
assessments were shared with children and families, lack of effective engagement
resulted in them not always being sufficiently clear about the purpose of the help,
care and support and/or protection they received. The resulting plans did not always
reflect the findings of the assessments and were not sufficiently child focused or
outcome driven. In some instances the quality of the plan hampered those taking
over a case from swiftly understanding the needs and risks associated with children
and families. Assessments and resulting plans need to be better shared with children
and families in a way that promotes their understanding of the issues and
engagement.

Management oversight of assessments and plans was seen but did not consistently
provide the level of challenge and quality control needed.

                                           5
Leadership management and governance

The authority was working hard to transform children’s social services at a time when
they had to deliver medium term financial savings. The ambition of the authority’s
plans signalled their commitment to improving both early intervention and statutory
services for children young people and their families. The objective to mitigate the
need for statutory social services however was significantly dependent upon the
ability of all council directorates to work together in order to deliver against the
council’s vision and contribute and co-ordinate an effective range of services. The
council will need to ensure there is an ongoing analysis of the underlying
complexities and risks associated with statutory children’s services. It was positive
that the council had recently begun work to develop a more comprehensive
evidenced based commissioning plan that will be key to the delivery of its early help
and permanence strategy.

The council needs to ensure that the strategic direction is translated into an
operational strategy for delivery of children’s services that is effectively
communicated and understood by staff, partners and service users. At the time of
the inspection the SSWBA was still at an early stage of being embedded and more
opportunities were needed to draw lessons from practice and engaged key
stakeholders in reviewing progress and in any resulting service remodelling. The
voices of children and families also need to be embedded in shaping service
planning to provide a better understanding of the difference that help, care and
support and/or protection is making for children and families. The introduction of a
new quality assurance framework will help the councils to understand the pace of its
service improvement.

Staff were committed to achieving good outcomes for children and families but staff
morale was variable across the service and needed to be nurtured at a time of
significant change. The recruitment and the retention of social workers had been
given significant priority despite some good progress the authority had encountered
difficulty in recruiting experienced staff. Services therefore were not always delivered
by a suitably qualified and experienced workforce that had the capacity to
consistently meet workload demands. Staff valued the approachability of their line
managers, and peer support from team members particularly in relation to
managing the increase in volume and complexity of their work. Staff would welcome
greater visibility of senior managers particularly given the remodelling of services.

The importance of staff development and good supervision practice to retention was
recognised and newly qualified workers were found to be well supported in their first
year of practice and highly valued the mentoring provided to them. Despite the
availability of some good training programmes staff including managers needed help
to prioritise training against the competing demands of their work .The quality of
supervision was found to be very variable and did not routinely evidence sufficient
challenge or reflection , a new supervision policy had not yet impacted on these
quality issues. Senior managers were working to develop a stronger oversight of
practice and management culture the leadership development of group managers
and front line managers was therefore being progressed as a priority.

                                           6
Recommendations

Access

1. A range of user-friendly information should be developed and made easily
accessible for families, children and young people not only with respect to
signposting to preventative services but also how children’s services and early help
carries out its work.

2. Effective, multi-agency training and quality assurance arrangements should be
established to ensure that the thresholds and referral expectations of both early help
and statutory children’s services are understood by staff and partners and are
consistently applied;

3. The council should continue to develop information systems that include scrutiny
of service demand and support an analysis of the difference that early help, care and
support and/or protection is making for children and families.

4. Caseload and quality assurance reports should be continuously monitored to
ensure there is sufficient capacity for workers to engage effectively with children and
their families.

5. The quality and consistency of record keeping and the use of chronologies and
genograms should be improved;

6. Effective arrangements should be put in place to ensure that the needs of children
and young people are assessed if contacts and referrals about their well-being are
repeated.

7. The council should review its Emergency duty team (EDT) arrangements to
ensure that EDT referrals are effectively captured on the electronic system and that
communication with the daytime service supports timely hand over and action.

Safeguarding and Assessment

8. The quality of assessments and plans should be improved to ensure that they are
consistently of a good quality, with a clear focus on the needs, risks and strengths of
children and families, and that desired outcomes, timescales and accountabilities for
actions are clear.

9. A service model of risk assessment and risk management should be developed
and shared with staff and also partner agencies. This should be accompanied by a
programme of training and assurance mechanisms to ensure compliance, quality
and impact.

10. Expectations in relation to the timeliness and quality of partner’s contributions to
assessments and care plans should be established. An assurance mechanism
should be implemented to ensure compliance and quality.

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11. Effective, management oversight and challenge systems should be established
at the point of transfer between teams to ensure a clear understanding of the needs
and risks associated with the case.

Leadership Management and Governance

12. The council should actively evaluate the effectiveness of its inter directorate
working in supporting the Statutory Director Social Services in delivering against the
statutory requirements of the Social Service Well-being Act and in particular
Information Advice and Assistance.

13. The council should progress its commitment to developing an evidence based
commissioning plan in relation to both statutory and early intervention services for
children and families.

14. The council should consider how it can increase the voices of children and
families in shaping service planning to provide a better understanding of the
difference that help, care and support and/or protection is making for children and
families.

15. The council should consider how it can provide opportunities for staff and
partners to be further engaged in the development and transformation of services;
the identification of lessons learnt from its implementation of IAA should be used
to inform the planned transition to a multi-agency safeguarding hub.

16. The quality assurance framework should be developed and implemented as a
priority.

17. The workforce strategy should continue to focus on maximising staff retention
and actions to promote the timely recruitment of experienced staff.

18. Staff must have the capacity to complete the training which has been identified to
support their professional development.

19. Senior managers should take steps to improve the frequency, consistency and
quality of front line staff supervision; an assurance mechanism should be
implemented to ensure compliance and quality.

20. Arrangements for group managers, team/deputy managers and senior
practitioners should be kept under review as part of the remodelling of services to
ensure their capacity to effectively and consistently provide management oversight
of decision making, challenge and direction for staff across the service; access to
a leadership and development programme should be progressed for managers
to build resilience.

                                           8
Access Arrangements
What we expect to see

All people have access to comprehensive information about Information Assistance
& Advice services and get prompt advice and support, including information about
their eligibility for care and support services. Preventive services are accessible and
effective in delaying or preventing the need for care and support. Access
arrangements to statutory social services provision are understood by partners and
the people engaging with the service and are operating effectively.

Summary of findings

      The authority had worked hard to reshape its services and had developed an
       assessment team as a single point of contact for both social work and
       preventative (Early Help) interventions.
      The colocation of staff from social services, early help and partner agencies
       within the assessment team was supporting children and families to be
       directed more easily to appropriate services.
      Access arrangements to Early Help and statutory services were respectful of
       peoples’ rights and individuality and were available bilingually.
      Despite positive performance in the number of Joint Assessment Family
       Framework (JAFF) completed, partners need to be encouraged to understand
       the impact that they could make by undertaking the role of the lead
       professional.
      The interface between social services and Early Help thresholds was
       underpinned by a threshold criteria document, but this was not sufficiently
       understood by partner agencies.
      Information provided by partner agencies was not always of a sufficient quality
       to support the assessment team to make secure screening decisions.
      There was a lack of accessible quality information for children, young people
       and their families.
      Performance information was being captured but needed to include a better
       analysis of service impact particularly in relation to repeat referrals.
      Screening decisions were inconsistent and managers and partners needed to
       be more engaged in the quality assurance of access threshold decisions.
      When contacts were received by children’s services and there was an obvious
       indication of significant harm prompt and proportionate initial action was taken
       to protect children.
      More multi agency work was needed in respect of Information Advice and
       Assistance (IAA) service expectations to support staff to exercise appropriate
       and proportionate judgement.

                                           9
Explanation of findings
Context

1.1. At the time of the inspection the Social Services and Well Being Directorate was
progressing work to transform services to children in the context of a wider
Corporate ‘One Council’ vision. This significant change process reflected the
authority’s corporate priorities and medium term financial requirements, the
Directorate’s business plan and the expectations and objectives of the Social
Services Well-being Act (Wales) 2014. The safe reduction of its looked after children
population remained a key priority for the council (387 children as of 31/12/2016).
The council had reframed its focus, replacing its placement and permanence
strategy within an Early Help and Permanence Strategy that was aimed at
developing a “whole system” and multi agency approach to supporting Looked after
Children, whilst helping families to remain together.
1.2 Children’s Social services, designated as children’s “social care”, had been
relocated from the former Children’s Directorate – now the Education and Family
Support Directorate and joined with adult social care under the Corporate Director
Social Services and Well-being in January 2015. The authority’s Early Intervention
and support services (Early Help) remained within the Education and Family Support
Directorate. The relationship between the Directorates had benefitted from their
close ties in the past and these new arrangements were designed to underpin the
corporate priority of ‘helping people to be more self-reliant’. The location of early help
responsibilities outside of the social services and well-being directorate however,
means that any mitigation of need for statutory social services is significantly
dependent upon the ability of the Directorates to work together in order to, co-
ordinate and deliver an effective range of services.
1.3. Managers from across the two directorates, led by the Corporate Director Social
Services and Well-being, had recently (summer 2016) developed a ‘Vision into
Action’ document that identified four key change priorities. Children with Disabilities,
Residential Services, Early help and Permanence and the development of a Multi-
Agency Safeguarding Hub. The resulting shared project plans are now overseen by
a ‘Remodelling Children’s Social Care Programme Board ‘and this includes other
statutory partners.
1.4. The council had taken a national lead in the implementation of the new
electronic Wales Community Care Information System (WCCIS). This necessitated
that the authority create new operational templates consistent with the requirements
of the act and the new system. The new arrangements ‘went live’ with the
introduction of the SSWBA in April 2016, The system’s electronic records were still
new and recognised as a ‘work in progress’. Staff reported early learning from
practice was that the prescription of some templates impacted adversely on the
proportionality of their work. The aim of WCCIS is to enable health and social
services work together in a more integrated way nationally and locally. At the time of
the inspection this integration of information with health was still at an early stage
and the ambition of the system was yet to be realised. Inspectors found that the
electronic record did not currently support readily accessible oversight of the
authority’s previous involvement with families. Chronologies and genograms were
not well developed or purposeful and there was no common methodology. The

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templates had not supported the capture of consistently good quality information or
analysis. More work and training was needed particularly with those expected to use
the tools, to develop a shared understanding of the intention of the templates and
how they should be completed.

1.5. The authority was aware of the growth in demand for social services but also
recognised the need to maximise the opportunity to promote more timely
engagement with families when the threshold for statutory services was not met. The
authority therefore had worked hard to reshape its services and had developed an
assessment team as a single point of contact for both social work and the early help
interventions. For example in 2015/2016: 3777 contacts had not progressed to a
referral because they were deemed to be below the statutory threshold.
1.6. Whilst cross directorate work was evident between social services and early
help services, the relationship between the assessment team and the council’s other
information services, including the Family Information Service (FIS) and the
Council’s Customer Service Centre (sometimes known as the call centre) was
underdeveloped. Staff reported that a lack of understanding regarding the remit of
the assessment team and its interface with other council information and signposting
arrangements, created potential service tensions. The example most often cited by
staff and observed by inspectors, was phone calls that could have gone to other
services were misdirected to the assessment team blocking access to the duty
system. Limited availability of dedicated business support staff to answer the phone
had compounded this issue. The imminent transition to a Multi-Agency
Safeguarding Hub (MASH) and the appointment of a new customer services
manager was seen as an important opportunity for the council to clarify these
information service pathways and to better publicise and disseminate the
arrangements.
1.7. The authority had progressed work to implement the Dewis Cymru system (the
national citizen portal for well being information) but this was still at an early stage.
Information, including from the family information system, was still being uploaded
onto the system. Once developed it is intended that Dewis will be used across the
social services and well-being directorate and other parts of the council as a central
information point for the public. As with any electronic information system, the
challenge will be maintaining the relevance of information and ensuring ease of
access for the public. It was helpful that a link had now been established on Welsh
Community Care Information System (WCCIS) to support staff, to access pertinent
information, particularly as some partners expressed concern that personnel
providing IAA services did not always have sufficient information to signpost the
public effectively.

                                            11
A Multi-Agency Safeguarding Hub

1.8. A Multi-Agency Safeguarding Hub (MASH) was expected to go live from April
2017. Inspectors saw the Council’s current approach to Information Advice and
Assistance (IAA) as having been both progressed but also impeded by the work
undertaken to develop the MASH. Staff involved in the project recognised that this
would necessitate a further period of change but were optimistic that a MASH would
extend the current multi agency make-up of the team, improve information sharing
and the management of referrals, particularly those relating to domestic abuse.
However the focus on the Mash had diverted some attention and resource away
from ensuring that the operationalization of the SSWBA particularly in relation to the
current access arrangements was sufficiently well understood and owned by staff
and partner agencies. The transition to a MASH provided a timely opportunity for
further joint training on the requirements of the SSWBA that could include learning
from practice to date.
Information Advice and Assistance

1.9. Bridgend County Borough Council’s current model for the provision of
Information, Advice and Assistance (IAA) services for children, families and
professionals was through a countywide assessment team based in Bridgend Civic
Centre, or in relation to disabled children through a Disabled Children’s team (co
located with a multi agency adult social care team). Outside of working hours, a
separate Emergency Duty Team responds to referrals that require an immediate
response. As well as providing an IAA service, the Assessment team undertook
initial safeguarding and child protection activities, child protection strategy
discussions, section 47 enquiries’, care and support assessments, court work and
the accommodation of children as required, holding cases up until the point of
closure or transfer.

1.10. The Assessment team consisted of two co-located pods of staff. A statutory
services social work team, (team manager, three part-time senior practitioners, nine
social workers and three unqualified social work assistant staff), an early help team,
plus other specialist professionals.
1.11. The early help pod, comprised of a senior practitioner and screening officer
who provided screening function for all new ‘requests for help’. Membership had
been extended in preparation for the MASH to include other co-located
professionals, in order to facilitate more timely intervention and to ensure access to
expert advice; these included a specialist health visitor (funded by health and an
early help grant), a community drugs and alcohol worker and education child
protection officers. Whilst the two pods had distinct functions and separate line
management accountabilities, the co-location of agencies had started to improve
understanding of each other’s roles and the more flexible management of service
thresholds. Despite the arrangements only being in place since April 2016, the
council’s ambition that people be directed more easily between social services and
to early help services, had begun to be realised. It was reported by staff that
approximately ten referrals a day were being passed directly to the two early help
workers in the assessment team for screening, information gathering and direction
on to early help services provided through early help locality hubs.

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1.12. The interface between social services and early help was underpinned by one
referral format and a threshold criteria document that sets out a pathway from
universal through to targeted statutory services, including a step up and step down
process. It was disappointing that whilst social work and early help staff were
generally aware of these criteria, it was not well known by professional referrers.
Despite reported confidence in children’s services, partners identified that they often
didn’t know how the assessment team applied the thresholds between early help
provision and statutory interventions. More work was needed to meaningfully engage
with staff and partners including from across the council in shaping services and to
promote greater transparency and understanding of operational thresholds.

1.13. It was not evident that children, young people and families had been consulted
about service developments. Inspectors found that there were no leaflets or
materials available to the public providing an information guide to the range of
services available or how to access them; this gap is not consistent with the
Information, Advice and Assessment requirements of the Act. A benefit associated
with early intervention was that services did not carry the perceived stigma attached
to the social service function. However, staff were unable to articulate how the
public understood the differentiation of the council’s service arrangements. It was
unclear if the development of such published information had been postponed to
accommodate the introduction of a MASH or if it was an unfortunate omission. It was
significant that some staff indicated that they would also welcome such information,
as they were not clear regarding service access thresholds for themselves.
1.14. Responsibility for those cases not meeting the statutory threshold but requiring
preventative interventions was transferred to the early help service at the point of the
early help request. Following screening, these cases were either closed; signposted
or directed to the early help locality teams. It was positive that the parameters for
eligibility to early help services were sufficiently inclusive to enable access to
services both in relation to children and families with non-eligible and eligible needs
and that the arrangements supported step down of cases from statutory social work
teams. However, the lack of formal feedback systems regarding the take up of early
help services meant that there were potential missed opportunities to actively
engage families and ensure that the right response had been made. It had been
recognised that some families needed a more prompt intervention in order to engage
more effectively with early help and the authority were considering extending the
early help service in the assessment team to include support workers able to
undertake immediate task-focused work at the point of referral.
1.15. The demand on early help services had increased since its reconfiguration.
Between April 2015 to September 2016 the early help service had received a total of
2999 ‘requests for help’ (referrals) of which 40 % (1193) were made by schools and
other education services. Children’s social work teams made 31% (941) requests for
help of which 32 % (303) were made by the assessment team (104 of which were
made prior to completion of a care and support Assessment). Safeguarding hubs
made 55 % (515) requests for help; 61 formal requests were made for step down
support. Only 6 % (187) were self-referrals, whilst this was improved performance it
remains stubbornly low and raises the question of whether the ability of the council’s
approach to early help to ‘reach out’ and maximise opportunities for identifying and
mitigating early risk, are fully effective; this may reflect the lack of public awareness
of the service.

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Early Help

1.16. The early help services were configured around a central hub and three
localities early help hubs. All of the hubs had strong connections with services
commissioned through the Welsh Government’s Families First grant and the Flying
Start programme. Access to Flying Start support however, was location-specific, so
creating some inequality in availability.
1.17. The central hub provided countywide specialist targeted services. These
services have a key role in delivering the priority of safely reducing the council’s
looked after children population. (Services included Connecting Families; Specialist
youth service co- coordinators and a regional IFSS team). The authority reported
that 42% (394) of the requests for help made by the social work safeguarding teams
from April 2015 –September 2016, were allocated to central hub services; 291 for
example, were referred to Connecting Families. While staff highly valued these
services and reported that they were effective there was frustration that service
pressures impacted on their availability and the timeliness of their engagement with
families.
1.18. The three early help hubs were co-located with social work safeguarding
teams, with two hubs being based in their geographic area to promote better
community links. The range of professionals who comprise the early help teams had
all received training in ‘evidence based practice’ and ‘motivational interviewing’. The
teams operated a ‘team around the family or team around the school’ model. The
service had seen a considerable growth in the number of JAFF assessments
completed increasing from 228 in 2014/15 to 681 in 2015. Whilst this improved
performance was positive, it appeared to stem in part from the location of the JAFF
lead professional within the locality hubs. There was some evidence that the risk of
concentrating ownership within a function in this way, rather than broadening it
across partner agencies, was beginning to have a potential silo effect. It was
recognised therefore that more work was needed to encourage and support partners
in understanding the positive impact that they could make to children by undertaking
the role of the lead professional.

1.19. Inspectors saw evidence of some timely and proactive early help work with
children and families that supported their independence and improved well-being but
some concerns were also raised that thresholds for interventions were still poorly
understood by partner agencies.

Early help needs to be targeted early enough, some families who used to be able to
access services are being excluded but the needs will just get worse ‘
(partner agency)

1.20. The complexity of some cases referred to early help caused some staff to feel
that the service was not always operating within its professional competence. Early
help providers identified that there was a frequent disparity between the reason for
referral and the actual problem they encounter when they engage directly with
family.

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1.21. Inspectors saw a small number of examples where the threshold for service
had been inconsistently applied and the case had been directed to early help before
safeguarding issues had been sufficiently resolved. Inspectors were somewhat
reassured however; that staff in the early help service were confident in their
safeguarding responsibilities and that social work advice was available to support
them to ‘step up’ such cases as needed.
Range of services

1.22. The council had developed a positive range of commissioned provision, a
significant proportion of which was reliant upon grant funding. Some pressures and
gaps in services were highlighted, particularly around services for children related to
domestic abuse but the concerns raised by staff mainly related to issues of capacity
and responsiveness. At the time of the inspection there were waiting lists for some
services and delays in decommissioning and re-commissioning, due to grant funding
constraints, meant that some early help organisations had stopped accepting new
referrals. The authority was looking to resolve these issues and to strengthen future
evidence based commissioning. Senior managers were very aware that access to
early support was key to mitigating the need for statutory services and to the delivery
of the early help and permanence strategy. Clearly this commissioning deficit is
something that needs to be addressed as a priority.
1.23. The authority had recently begun work to capture the demand on services and
had developed a shared dataset, which provided some numerical information from
across both social services and early help. The data is reviewed by a multi agency
Early Intervention and Safeguarding Board chaired by the Corporate Director of
Social Services and Well-being. The data as seen by inspectors was at a very early
stage but the authority had plans to progress this to include a greater emphasis on
impact and outcomes. The analysis of such information will be essential if the
authority is to understand the effectiveness of its arrangements and future
development and commissioning needs.
Statutory services

1.24. The arrangements for access to statutory children’s social services in Bridgend
were well organised through the assessment team. In introducing the requirements
of the SSWB Act, the service had sought to simplify operational expectations in
relation to IAA by defining the role of the assessment team as providing a duty
service to receive and screen referrals the result of which may be recorded as
information and closed, signposted, or redirected to early help. Where advice or
assistance was required, the assessment team undertook a proportionate
assessment using a care and support assessment template, the outcome of which
might include the identification of eligible need.
1.25. The authority had experienced year-on-year growth in the number of referrals
In 2015 /2016 the authority reported an 8% rise in contacts from 4619 to 4988 of
which 1288 were screened as requiring social services involvement (a 28% increase
in the overall number of referrals.)
1.26. Professional oversight of the duty arrangements was in place with the three
designated senior practitioners sharing the day-to-day management of the first
contact arrangements. Their responsibilities included screening cases, making and

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signing off decisions on all new contacts, managing initial child protection strategy
arrangements and allocating cases for assessment within the team. Increased
pressure on the service meant that at least two of the senior practitioners were now
engaged in the screening process on a daily basis. Inspectors noted that whilst they
were there, the early help senior practitioner, again an experienced social worker
had to step in to support the social work function because it was under capacity and
could not manage the flow of work on that day.
1.27. A team manager has overall responsibility for the social work pod including
supervision, performance and workflow. The team manager and the senior
practitioners were all suitably experienced and secure in their professional decision
making abilities. A key strength of the assessment team was the close working
relationship between the managers and the staff and their shared commitment to
safely supporting children and their families. The central location of the team meant
that group managers were accessible and they were viewed as supportive. Staff
reflected however, that changes in the group manager’s roles to accommodate
‘vision into action priorities’ had necessarily impacted on their time, availability and
continuity of responsibilities.
1.28. The authority had maintained consistently good performance in relation to the
number of referrals on which a decision was made within one working day, and had
retained this performance indicator as a means of providing assurance. As part of
the introduction of the Act, the manager and senior practitioners had all ‘worked’
cases using the new templates, to better understand the practice changes needed.
The team manager had also instigated systems including daily meetings with the
senior practitioners to help support the consistency of decision-making and some
sampling of cases was undertaken with the group manager. Inspectors saw some
positive evidence of management oversight but found that whilst screening decisions
were timely, the quality of the threshold decision-making was not yet consistent.
1.29. Inspectors saw examples of cases that were well managed and where
screening attention was focused on safeguarding considerations but also on ‘what
matters’ to the individual. When contacts were received where there was an obvious
indication that a child was at risk or had suffered significant harm, prompt decisions
were made and effective initial action was taken to protect the child.

1.30. In other cases the detail of the referral record was incomplete and information
from the range of agency checks undertaken as part of the screening process was
not always evident. The reason for the referral was also not always clear, or
sufficiently clarified to ensure the appropriateness of the response. Staff reported
and inspectors confirmed that EDT referrals were inconsistently captured on the
electronic system and communication with the daytime service was too limited to
ensure timely hand over and action.

1.31. Inspectors found it difficult to evaluate the quality of management decisions, as
the underpinning rationale for the application of thresholds was not routinely
recorded and did not reflect for example, the extent to which the cumulative effect of
multiple incidents had been considered. Senior managers need to consider the
extent to which this presents a potential safeguarding risk. In a minority of the cases
seen, screening had not identified and reduced risks to children at the point of
contact and referral. In these instances inspectors viewed the case as being

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prematurely closed, inappropriately transferred to early help or requiring a more
immediate statutory response.

1.32. Despite reported good ‘working relationships with partner agencies it was
evident that there was no shared common understanding of threshold criteria and
staff told inspectors that referrals from partners were not of a consistently sufficient
quality to support the assessment team to make informed decisions. Some partners
equally described access to services as becoming increasingly bureaucratic and
they did not understand the intentions behind the single point of contact
arrangements.
1.33. The issue of consent was particularly highlighted, as being insufficiently
addressed by referrers and it was clear that families were not always fully aware that
they had been referred to the assessment team even where this was for early help.
The perceived ‘resistance’ to gaining appropriate consent was often attributed to
professionals ‘wanting to preserve their relationship with families’ but equally
reflected a lack of understanding of the requirements of the service. The assessment
team were seeking to positively challenge these issues and support partners to
make more appropriately targeted referrals; this was being facilitated by the
interventions of co-located multi agency colleagues within the team, who also helped
to gather relevant information. The development of the MASH is intended to resolve
some of these concerns. However, it was clear that more multi agency work was
needed in respect of current IAA service expectations. Staff and Partners also need
to be more engaged in the quality assurance process, particularly with regard to
access threshold decisions.

 ‘The assessment starts when enquiries on third party contacts start and then they
 go nowhere because when we speak to the families they didn’t know about the
 referral and they don’t want a service’. It all takes time “.
 (Social workers)

1.34. The council’s operationalization of the new legislation and particularly IAA had
clearly resulted in some significant unintended consequences for the service that
militated against the effectiveness of the team and had impacted on staff morale.
Whilst welcoming a framework some staff told inspectors that they felt
disempowered to exercise professional judgement, for example to close cases at the
point of contact. The combination of incomplete information provided by professional
referrers, the service trigger for instigating a proportionate assessments and the
overly prescriptive nature of the accompanying assessment template, was all said to
have resulted in ‘excessively time consuming activity that was disproportionate to
need’.

1.35. It was positive that senior managers had sought to respond to these concerns
and had introduced new transfer arrangements to improve the throughput of work for
the team. It had also been decided, prior to the implementation of the MASH, to
reinstate a joint screening meeting with the police to better manage the high volume
of police contacts and improve the identification of risk and timely action.

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1.36. Whilst these changes were all helpful, it was nevertheless clear that the
template driven nature of the assessment methods that have been introduced, had
created a formulaic approach overall. Good safeguarding practice is predicated on
the ability of experienced practitioners to exercise appropriate and proportionate
judgement on a case-by-case basis. Whilst judgement always needs to be exercised
within a clear framework, senior managers should review the extent to which the
active social work analysis and decision-making function is being displaced by
process and the potential for this to undermine confident professional decision
making. Staff, partners and service users need to be actively engaged in the on-
going review of the implementation of the SSWBA and in any resulting remodelling
of the service.
Conclusion: - Access arrangements

Inspectors found that the authority had worked hard in the context of the Social
Services Well-being Act 2014, to reshape its services. The authority’s Information
Advice and Assistance function was delivered through the Assessment team which
provided a single point of contact for both social work and preventative (Early Help)
interventions.
Access arrangements to Early Help and statutory services were respectful of
peoples’ rights and individuality and were available bilingually but there was a lack of
accessible quality information for children, young people and their families. The
colocation of staff from social services, early help and partner agencies within the
assessment team was supporting children and families to be directed more easily to
appropriate services, but was yet to mature into integrated services. The
Assessment team multi agency arrangements will be extended through the
development of a Multi Agency Safeguarding Hub from April 2017. The current
access arrangements, including the interface between social services and Early
Help, were underpinned by a threshold criteria document, but this was not yet
sufficiently understood by partner agencies. Screening decisions were timely and
Inspectors saw some positive evidence of management oversight. When contacts
were received by children’s services and there was an obvious indication of
significant harm, prompt and proportionate initial action was taken to protect children.
The quality of threshold decision-making however, was inconsistent and not
sufficiently evidenced. It was acknowledged by the service that the changes
introduced to operationalise IAA had brought additional expectations that put
pressure on the capacity of the managers and the workload of the assessment team.
The information provided by partner agencies was not always of a sufficient quality
to support the assessment team in their screening decision and some professional
referrers demonstrated a lack of understanding of the requirements of the service.
More work was needed to develop multi agency quality assurance systems to
support staff to exercise appropriate and proportionate judgements and to provide
assurance that children young people and families were being directed to the most
appropriate service. The impending transition to a MASH provided a timely
opportunity to refresh service expectations resulting from of the SSWBA, including
learning from practice. The authority will also need to extend its performance
information to include an analysis of the impact that services are having on reducing
need and risk.

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Safeguarding & Assessment
What we expect to see

Effective local safeguarding strategies combine both preventative and protective
elements. Where people are experiencing or are at risk of abuse neglect or harm,
they receive prompt, well-coordinated multi-agency responses. People experience a
timely assessment of their needs and risks which promotes their safety, well-being
and independence. Assessments have regard to personal outcomes, views, wishes
and feelings of the person subject of the assessment and that of relevant others
including those with parental responsibility. Assessments provide a clear
understanding of what will happen next.

Summary of findings

      Proportionate urgent action was taken to protect children and young people at
       risk of immediate significant harm. Strategy discussions were timely and
       supported appropriate information sharing with key agencies.
      The assessment team were working hard to implement the requirements of
       the Social Services Well-being (Wales) Act 2014.
      The quality of the assessments and recording seen was variable; some were
       good but others did sufficiently evidence the principle of co-production or an
       analysis of need and risk from the outset.
      Good social work practice to elicit the child’s wishes and feelings was not
       consistently well reflected in the content of assessments.
      The timeliness and quality of partners’ contributions to assessments was not
       always evident and remained too dependent on individual professional
       relationships.
      The quality of plans should be improved to reflect the needs identified in the
       assessments, plans should child focused and outcome-driven.
      Management oversight of assessments and plans was seen but did not
       consistently provide sufficient challenge and quality control.
      Assessments and resulting plans need to be better shared with children and
       families in a way that promotes their understanding of the issues and
       engagement in any resulting plan.

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Explanation of findings

Safeguarding

2.1. For those children whose needs are greater or risks require action, the
assessment team responded in a mainly timely way. Where children and young
people were identified as at immediate risk of harm, children services convened a
strategy discussion or meeting with the police.
The authority appeared clear in its decision making when moving into child
protection investigations and proportionate urgent action was taken to protect
children and young people at risk of immediate significant harm.

2.2. The senior practitioners in the assessment team and safeguarding hubs shared
responsibility for managing strategy meetings and for section 47 enquiries on new
cases. To promote continuity the social workers undertaking a section 47 enquiry
within the assessment team reported to one designated senior practitioner who
maintained oversight of the investigation. From the cases reviewed inspectors
identified that social workers undertaking child protection investigations were suitably
qualified but not always experienced. Staff holding child protection and looked after
children cases were not always qualified but additional management oversight was
provided.

2.3. Inspectors found that strategy discussions and/or meetings were managed in
accordance with guidance. The relationships between social services and the police
were viewed as positive and the arrangements for organizing strategy
discussions/meetings were effective. Strategy discussions/meetings were timely and
as required could be undertaken on the same day. A weekly ‘set day’ arrangement
for strategy meetings was also in place and staff and partners described this as
providing greater opportunity for relevant agencies to provide information and
contribute to the decision making process. It was noted that, where relevant, early
help staff also attended these meetings. Outcome strategy discussions /meetings
were also convened and used effectively as a means of keeping agencies informed,
reviewing progress and determining next steps.

2.4. The small number of strategy discussions, section 47 enquiries and case
conference reports seen by inspectors as part of the case file sample were viewed
as being appropriate and of a sufficient quality to inform decision making. Children
were seen /observed and seen alone as part of the enquiry. Inspectors did not see
any examples of children and families being subject to child protection investigations
unnecessarily. When the decision was made that a child protection conference was
required, the conference was convened within appropriate timescales. Child
protection procedures were well understood by staff, and despite some variability in
the quality of care and support protection plans seen, families were being supported
to keep children safe.

2.5. Arrangements to seek legal advice were well established through legal gateway
meetings (LGM). The decision making relationship between the LGM and the
resource panels would benefit from clarification. Social workers and managers
would also benefit from having clearer parallel processes between child protection

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and the Public Law Outline (PLO) underpinned by a shared understanding of risk
and the potential for change.

2.6. The authority had used emergency protection powers very infrequently in the
last year. In the one case reviewed by inspectors it was questioned if planned action
taken earlier might have resulted in a better outcome .The introduction of the MASH
should support a system for review and learning from such cases.

2.7. As well as being an active member of the Western Bay Safeguarding Board
(WBSCB) .Bridgend has established a Safeguarding Operational Board chaired by
the Corporate Director Social Services and Well-being and including partners from
across the council. This has helped to ensure a local perspective and oversight of
safeguarding activity for adults, young people and children within the County
Borough. It was noted that the authority had undertaken significant work to raise the
profile and response to risks of child sexual exploitation through the development of
a Child Sexual Exploitation Task Force within the Bridgend area. All staff interviewed
told us about recent training on this topic which included innovative ‘‘mapping
sessions’ involving staff and partners. A similar approach is now needed in relation
to risk assessment.

Assessment

2.8. At the time of the inspection Bridgend children’s services had sought to
harmonise assessment practices with the new requirements of the SSWB Act. The
consequence of this was that all assessments including those designated as
providing advice and assistance (proportionate) were completed using one care and
support assessment template that included the five domains of the SSWB. Staff in
the social work pod of the assessment team were allocated responsibility for
assessment, safeguarding and care and support planning on new cases. Case
transfer points had been determined to maximise early opportunity to engage with
and make a difference to children and families and minimise the early change of
social worker, at a time when a family might be in crisis.

2.9. The Disabled Children's Team (DCT) undertook all assessments for disabled
children including those where there are concerns of risk or potential harm for a
disabled child. Inspectors only reviewed a few assessments undertaken by the DCT
but the assessments seen were of a good quality. Inspectors also saw evidence in
the files that the DCT routinely offered carers assessments to the parents/carers of
disabled children.

2.10. Commitment in the assessment team was good, with varying levels of
experience including newly qualified and non-qualified workers all of whom
undertook assessments. Staff and managers said that the capacity of the team was
being ‘stretched by the ‘competing and relentless’ demands being placed on the
service. Caseloads, particularly of the more experienced staff were described as
‘increasingly unmanageable’ and manager’s oversight of cases was correspondingly
under pressure.

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2.11. At the time of the inspection the authority was in the first year of capturing base
line performance data in relation to the introduction of the SSWB Act. Bridgend
reported that in the nine months since the introduction of the Act, (April 2016 –
December 2016) 1931 children and families had received advice and assistance
(which were deemed as proportionate assessments). There had been 784
assessments for care and support undertaken of which 381(49%) had resulted in a
care and support plan, with 404 (51%) assessed as not having eligible needs.
Information from the shared data set captured for the Early Intervention and
Safeguarding board, identified that 65% of all requests for help (early help) received
from the assessment team between April 2015 to September 2016, were made
following a care and support assessment. The volume of demand on the team had
showed no signs of reduction and the authority will need to analyse its performance
including its re-referral rate, to better understand if the current activity is
proportionate, sustainable and promoting improved independence and outcomes for
those using the service.

2.12. Managers were proactive and had systems in place to track assessments but
the individual targets for the completion of assessments were not well recorded on
the file. Inspectors found that the timeliness of assessments did not therefore
consistently match the child’s needs and some assessments were not completed
within 42 days. Staff told inspectors that the repetitive nature of the assessment
template did not support an overview of the case and was overly time consuming.

2.13. The quality of assessments seen was very variable. Inspectors saw some good
examples that were proportionate to need and holistic in approach.

 The assessment set out key aspects of the incident, discussion and an effective
 what matters conversation that included a clear focus on the child. The overall
 engagement was sensitive and carried out in a timely manner. Interviews and the
 case file record demonstrated that children were seen and the assessment was
 proportionate. The assessor directed the family to the possible support services
 available and to safeguarding and well- being information for children where they
 may witness domestic abuse. The mother was reassured by the intervention and
 felt able to access services as needed. (CSSIW inspector)

2.14. The best examples evidenced that the assessments built on from the initial
information, the child was seen and the record captured both the child’s and the
parents’ views (both resident and non-resident parent). This included what mattered
to them in the context of their family history and their cultural needs. The analysis
focused on potential strengths and risks and supported the identification of both
eligible need and appropriate early help.

In other examples however, Inspectors found that the use of the “what matters
conversations” as evidenced in the assessment reflected what was desired rather
than what might be needed as a result of an over reliance on self-reporting. In a
number of examples there was a lack of historical context and little exploration of the
impact of previous support services provided.

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